To me, the highlight of Perú wasn’t kayaking at lake Titi Kaka, or visiting ancient Inca ruins, or staying with ‘traditional’ Inca families, to me, the highlight of Perú, was the insects. From holding ants to looking at bizarre centipedes, the natural life is stunning. It is not often you get to hold the world’s most painful stinging insect, on the site of an ancient ruin.
Enter, the bullet ant. Paraponera clavata is the world’s most painful insect, someone who is unfortunate enough to get stung by this insect will feel as if they have been SHOT BY A GUN. The pain lasts for twenty four hours. I HELD THAT IN MY HANDS!
First, some backstory. We flew in a plane to Lima, then Cusco, at approximately 11,000 feet up. Our bodies were not prepared. After fleeing down to Urubamba, we stayed there in preparation for the big trip, Machu Picchu. One horrifying bus ride later, and we all felt like puking our guts out, we walked for two hours to the Disneyland-esque town of Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu, it is where EVERYONE meets. After a tense dinner conversation, more like a confrontation with our tour guide about the lack of tickets, we had to get up at FIVE IN THE MORNING! To get tickets.
We did not and do not like our guide Alex. Alex, you suck.
After a bus ride up, finding a new guide, a much, much better one mind you, we enter the lost city of the Inca’s and it’s off to the races, not actually because they do not like you doing ANYTHING to the rocks and will throw you out (Physically off the cliffs). Hiking through the ruins I do everything in my power to strike up a conversation about ants, which goes surprisingly well! Our guide apparently has picked up and held Bullet Ants and knows first hand the pain that they can cause. We continue the tour, pick up a few more people whose guides abandoned them. He began poking around the ground by a rock in the middle of this city. it’s an ant! He picks it up and puts it on my arm. The rather large frightening ant is crawling all over my arm. I have never respected an animal as much as that one. It could cause me imaginable pain if it felt threatened. I could crush it, but not after it basically shoots me with a non-lethal gun. After a while, he flicked it off, and we parted ways and continued. That was the third one I saw today, I may have even seen a queen.
The hike down was downright painful, but the upside is that I saw my first official leafcutters, not of the Atta genus, but leafcutter’s nonetheless.
In conclusion, the jungle is a frankly amazing place, and I feel so lucky for holding a creature that’s more terrifying than a jaguar. I do hope that I will get to go to Costa Rica someday to hopefully see more ants and more amazing creatures.